One International Perspective on the Deferred Candidacy Policy

Our conversations with the global coffee contingent assembled in Seoul for the WBC shed new light on the controversial SCA decision


I have to admit, being in Seoul, South Korea, for the 2017 World Barista Championship, and hearing the news of the Specialty Coffee Association’s (SCA) decision to move forward with the plan to host multiple 2018 international coffee championships in Dubai, UAE, has been frustrating, confusing, and simply overwhelming as a journalist.

When I first began writing this piece, I thought the situation was clear: The SCA should be publicly condemned for this decision. After 63 days of protesting and waiting for a response from our governing board since the initial announcement, I thought their solution was inadequate and downright offensive—to continue holding the events planned there (the 2018 World Brewers Cup, Cezve/Ibrik Championship, World Coffee Roasting Championship, and World Cup Tasters Championship) and then to offer competitors who chose not to compete a deferment option—in which competitors can choose to defer their spot in any world competition until the following year if they give an “adequate” reason—was deplorable.

I looked to Twitter and other social media outlets, and saw my friends and colleagues express the same sentiments. So I decided to walk the floor of the WBC stage here in Seoul, and ask past and present competitors, coaches, and competition supporters from across the globe what they thought. I considered this a rare chance to step outside my echo chamber and talk to the global specialty-coffee community. The response I got was surprising.

Almost everyone I talked to expressed hesitation to condemn the decision. Some didn’t think the decision should be condemned at all. Many noted the confusion that a deferment policy could create—could there be 30 World Brewers Cup champions one year and 50 the next?—and some felt that the SCA made a confusing issue even more unclear. But almost every person expressed that they felt the outrage being expressed online through social media was a uniquely U.S. response. They felt like the outrage being expressed centered the competition around the needs of people from the United States.

I’m from the United States. For the first few hours I spent talking to the international coffee community gathered here, I was outright confused—I wasn’t sure how to process what people were telling me. But there had to be something there—this wasn’t just the response of one, but the response of many from all over the world. I talked to current competitors and teams from the Middle East, past national champions, and volunteers from all over the world, and they all told me the same thing.

And as I sat with this information, things became more clear.

In the 17 years of international coffee competitions, competitors have routinely been excluded from participating due to visa issues and safety concerns of the host country. In 2015, when the WBC was held in Seattle, more than one competitor couldn’t attend the competition because it was being held in the United States. In the past, many competitors would find out just days before that their visas had been approved, leaving them hours to make arrangements to compete. This year—2017—is the first year every single person who registered to compete in the WBC was allowed to attend.

The Deferred Candidacy policy, presented in a press release by SCA and World Coffee Events (WCE) somewhat recklessly, coupled with the initial decision to hold coffee championships in Dubai, were meant to address that on a global level. The Deferred Candidacy policy was not meant as a direct response to the problem in Dubai, but rather as a solution for a problem the SCA and WCE run into every competition season. On an annual basis, champions from countries all over the world face undue hardships to travel to the host country, which is simply not an issue any competitor from the United States has ever had to face until now.

I was surprised to learn this, and I could see how the global coffee community would be frustrated by our outrage because many of them have already dealt with exclusionary practices and violations of their rights and safety. Not that our outrage isn’t justified—let’s be clear there is simply no excuse for choosing a host country for a competition that routinely jails people for expression of sexuality outside of what the government deems decent or acceptable, which is well-documented by organizations like the United Nations and the Human Rights Watch. (The New York Times just published an article that feels exceptionally appropriate right now). But it seems like many members of the global community are suspicious that folks from the United States chose now—right now—to speak up. And the fact that this is a largely United States-centered reaction is something that needs to be dissected if we are to operate global events in a unified governing body.

This is an argument that is hard to process because it doesn’t diminish the fact that Dubai is simply not safe for many of our members. There’s no argument around this. The personal experiences of folks saying, “I’ve been to Dubai and have never felt in danger,” don’t erase the laws on the books, the documented violations of human rights, and the fear many members of the coffee community feel. But I was surprised to learn that so many members of our global specialty coffee community have faced hardships in the past, and that’s perhaps where the dissonance lies.

I know I was shocked to learn that this WBC in Seoul is the first time that every eligible national champion who wanted to compete was granted entrance to the host country, and that’s a start to solving this problem and bridging the global community. We need better, more reliable access to information and standards to which the SCA can make and uphold decisions. Yes, there have been years where not every competitor could enter the host country, but who could ever find that out without being at the WBC? And if we’ve had problems with competitors entering the country in the past, how is there not already a litmus test in place for determining a country’s eligibility to host a world competition? How was Dubai chosen in the first place if there are no standards established?

Transparency is key. Right now, folks on social media are speculating about how and why this decision was made, and many of them are pointing to money. And while I hear whispers on the WBC floor that people have the wrong idea, that ignores the fact that if people don’t know why a decision was made, of course they’re going to try to figure out the reason. Why was the press release from SCA so sparse? Why was information so slow to trickle down to members? How is money factored into decisions like this? Why are we, right now, confused as to how to elect members of the board that is meant to represent us? (I had to look at the bylaws of the SCA and how directors are appointed, and I still don’t totally understand.) As our community grows globally, the SCA has a responsibility not only to be transparent, but to reach out to the community and ascertain its needs and wants at every step. Decisions like these shouldn’t be surprises to its members. That’s Management 101.

I’m lucky to be here. I’ve learned so much through walking the show floor and talking to the global community. Some of my opinions have stayed the same—I still fundamentally believe Dubai is and continues to be the wrong place to hold a global coffee competition. But I’ve also been given the opportunity to see a problem on a much larger scale. I realize not everyone has been afforded this luxury. For my part, I will answer questions and continue to try to engage more members of the global community, the SCA, and the WCE in my commitment to communicating that information to you, the readers. As a journalist, it’s my job to give you as much information as I can.

The decision and subsequent outrage here don’t exist in a vacuum—this will happen again if we don’t analyze how we got to this place, and it’s clear now that decisions such as this one have been routinely made over the last decade to an audience that perhaps didn’t react as they should, or at least didn’t have all the facts before the outrage was expressed. Still, that doesn’t change what’s happening now and the fact that we have to engage with the problem in front of us. There are members of our community who feel unsupported and feel like their needs aren’t being considered. There are members of the global community who feel unheard and feel they have been ignored in the past. This is an excellent time for the SCA to really think about what it means to be an actor on a global stage and give voice to its myriad members.

Barista Magazine continues to encourage its readers to post comments and/or email their thoughts as well as ideas for a better solution to


About Ashley Rodriguez 413 Articles
Ashley is the Online Editor for Barista Magazine. She's based in Chicago. If you want to share a story or have a comment, you can reach her at


  1. Thank you for publishing this article. This conversation needs to be had in the context of the scope of people involved. That scope is a global one. Worldview plays a big role here and there’s a big world out there. Here’s to hoping this sector is willing to have the hard conversations in productive environments.

    Happy brewing,

  2. Jacobo,

    I totally hear you on quotes. Two main reasons I didn’t:
    1. A lot of folks asked to be off the record. I can’t disclose who they are or why they chose to speak off the record.
    2. I started this story as a ‘person on the street’ collecting opinions from folks on the WBC floor. I didn’t really frame questions in a way that would reflect what I’d ultimately end up writing. And truth be told, people told me things I was incredibly uncomfortable with. A lot of that had to do with language barriers, and some had to do with how overwhelming the show floor was in light of this announcement, but some of it was just that I felt that people were flat out wrong. In this argument, I’m not trying to claim that they’re right–adding their quotes felt like that was what I was trying to do while simultaneously casting them out to be further criticized while already acknowledging that I disagreed with them. But as I heard people disagree with me or share wildly different opinions than my own, I had to sit down and digest and try to figure out why that is. I’m hoping this article is more of a synthesis of that.

    I’d be interested in hearing some of the discussions you’ve had–either in the comment section or in email: Thank you for responding and let’s keep chatting.

  3. Fabiola,

    I’m thrilled to hear your responses and insights from Costa Rica. I think, and I should have been clearer, is that there are still a lot of opinions to collect. This wasn’t meant to be a catch-all for the global community (which would be impossible to do), but a discussion on the things I was hearing along with an invitation to get more voices in a larger discussion. I know I was startled when I heard opinions different than mine since so much of my social media outlets affirm what I felt about Dubai, and hearing anything to the contrary was strange to me and something I needed to digest and think about. Basically, I want more people to say what they feel and to provide a outlet for a global exchange of ideas.

  4. Hi Sandra,

    You’re right–the corrections in the article have been made. Thank you for commenting.

  5. Hi Ashley, first of all thanks for writing this an amending the use of the word America, since I’m from America too but from Costa Rica. I’m also a blogger who writes in Spanish so that the Latin american community can cope with the information and I wrote an article about what’s going on with SCA’s decision and I would like to share some of the reactions from our community. Will be sending them via email where you will be able to see that not even one person supports this decision.

  6. Hey Ashley, While you’re correcting the article, how about you actually quote the quotes you’re quoting?

    It’d be cool to actually know a few of the many people from around the world that told you the same, because ‘international insight’ without an actual quote seems very misleading.

    It’s really interesting what’s going on, and I swear I don’t want to mean it in a shady way, because I also got a chance to talk to many people among competitors, coaches, people from the staff in WCE, judges and volunteers and ALL OF THE people I got to chat with in this regard share sprudge’s opinion 100% and they’re considering taking actions similar to them.

    All the best, and let’s keep this discussion going.

  7. Here’s hoping you’re using “American” to mean people from North, Central, and South America. Based on context, it sound like you’re referring to people from the US and if so, your language should reflect that.

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